The following post has been shared from the 2015 March of the Living blog. Greater Cincinnati high school seniors traveled from Cincinnati to Poland, where students participated in March of the Living. Students walked alongside 12,000 people from throughout the world, including Holocaust survivors, on a 3-kilometer trek from Auschwitz to Birkenau. March of the Living commemorates Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and helps connects Jewish youth to their history.
The March of the Living blog was updated by each participant throughout this journey, which included educational tours throughout Poland, as well as adventures and cultural immersion in Israel. Read more at https://motl2015.wordpress.com/ .
Why I March
Noon. Each of us receives a small piece of plywood, shaped like a sign. It’s blank, ready to be marked on with each of our own reasons as to why we were participating in the March of the Living ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I think for a second, and it comes to me: “I’m walking for those who can’t. For those whose souls live on in my footsteps. For those who have given us all a reason to NEVER FORGET.” As I finish writing, I sigh, thinking of each story we have followed throughout our first four days here in Poland. There are millions more, millions more pairs of shoes, millions more smashed gravestones, millions more potential doctors, lawyers, world visionaries. All lost to a regime made up of people who had a goal to decimate an entire nation and almost succeeded.
But they didn’t.
We pulled into the parking lot at Auschwitz and stepped off the bus. I look around, seeing the hundreds of other buses and throngs of other Jewish teens from around the world, all getting ready to march, to march in solidarity and to show the world that we are still here. We immediately met a group from Montreal, and discussed our purple snapbacks and how to pronounce “out and about.” Soon we are in between the barracks at Auschwitz. There are almost 12,000 other people here with us, from all age groups, from Argentina to the United Kingdom to Los Angeles to Holland. There aren’t just Jews either. There was a group of elderly Swiss people who called themselves “Christians for Israel.” The March begins. At the blow of a shofar, we start to walk the 3 kilometers to Birkenau. I hold my GoPro high, snapping pictures of everybody, taking selfies, talking to people. As we approach the famous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, one of the members of the “Christians for Israel” group approached me and grabbed my arm. “Thank you for being here. It really is something, seeing all of you young adults excited and strong, you make this what it is,” she said in slightly broken English. I smiled, thanked her for being there as well, and continued on the March. Soon enough, after multiple renditions of “Am Yisrael Chai”, we approached Birkenau. We all walked in and placed our signs we made earlier in the train tracks. I was almost unaware of my surroundings in this surreal moment. After rising from the tracks, I looked around and realized that this was Birkenau. The extermination camp one of my friends’ mothers described as “almost like a movie set it’s so unreal” stood before me, it’s brick barracks on one side and half destroyed buildings on the other. This was weird. I got chills as I continued walking toward the other end of the camp. As we got to the end, we sat and observed a moving ceremony for Yom Hashoah and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of the war. With much singing and praying we remembered those who were murdered during the early 1940’s. After the ceremony, I posed with Asher Hirsch and Max Guttman in front of an Israeli flag hung on a barbed wire fence, and walked back to the bus. 6:26 pm.
It’s one thing, to describe the events of a day. But to describe the feelings and thoughts of every moment is something else. I was jubilant, marching with other Jews from around the world. I was terrified, seeing the very train tracks that welcomed thousands of Jews to a place that would become hell for them. I was honored, being a part of an event that, although only 27 years old, has become almost a cornerstone of the Jewish experience as a teenager in our world today.
Tomorrow, we are coming back to these two camps for guided tours. It’s going to be a very different atmosphere; there will be no yelling, no hat trading, nothing really resembling the festivities of today. It will be an experience some of us have known is necessary and memorable our whole Jewish lives.
And I think, after today, we’re all ready.
-Adam Schimberg, Walnut Hills High School